Review, Tour & Giveaway: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Constellation of Vital Phenomena

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
By Anthony Marra
(Hogarth, Hardcover, 9780770436407, May 2013, 400pp.)

The Short of It:

A haunting glimpse of war, as seen through the eyes of those affected.

The Rest of It:

I know little about the War in Chechnya. That’s the first thing I’ll tell you as I attempt to review a book that pushed me away as much as it pulled me in. The second thing I’ll admit is that I’ve never read a book quite like this one. Marra’s handling of the subject is both delicate and brutal. A combination that I was not expecting.

The story follows a handful of characters as they experience war between the years of 1994-2004. Havaa, a young girl who ran from her home as the Russians took her father away. Akhmed, the neighbor next door who lives with his ill, bedridden wife, Ula. Sonja, a brilliant surgeon, trying to keep a hospital open with just two full time staff to run it. Natasha, Sonja’s sister, addicted to heroin and nowhere to be found. Khassan, an old man who lives across from Havaa and is the father to Ramzan, a young man who has been enlisted by the Russians as an informer. Dokka, Havaa’s father, who gives refugees a bed to sleep in as they make their way to the camps.

The character list is short, but the complexities of each character make this a very rich story, filled with moments that will haunt your memories for days. The hospital serves as a gateway to the other side. Many come for help, but some never leave given their injuries or the lack of supplies available to Sonja. She makes do with dental floss for sutures, heroin instead of morphine and when Akhmed brings the young girl to her and asks her to provide a place for her to sleep, Sonja is not ready to care for a child. Akhmed’s only saving grace? The mediocre medical experience he holds. Help is what she desperately needs so she takes what she can get and agrees to take the girl in.

The pace of the story falters a bit as Marra takes us back and forth through time. At times I zipped through the pages and at other times, I had to push myself to get through a chapter. It wasn’t until the final third of the book that I found myself unable to put the book down. The fate of these characters and how Marra walks us down each of their paths was riveting and heartbreaking.

It’s beautifully written and the complexities of war are displayed in acts both large and small. The amputation of a limb, a young girl’s collection of items left behind by refugees, feeding a band of loyal dogs. This is one of those books that seeps into you slowly but it’s a story that you will never forget.

Enter to win your own copy. Details below.

Anthony Marra

To visit her Facebook page, click here.

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To visit her other tour stops, click here.

TLC Book Tours

Source: Review and giveaway copy provided by the publisher via TLC Book Tours.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.


This giveaway is for one copy of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and is open to the US and Canada. A winner will be chosen randomly by me. The book will come directly from the publisher. Only one entry per person.  Giveaway closes on June 7, 2013 (pacific). I will contact the winner for his/her mailing address.



26 thoughts on “Review, Tour & Giveaway: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena”

  1. I’ve heard great things about this book, and it seems timely given all the worries I had over the Boston Marathon bombings and manhunt near friends and family.

    1. Remember the other blogger who said the characters were hard to follow? I didn’t have a problem with that at all. The pace was slow though. About midway through I was really pushing to get it read but that last third made up for the pace.

  2. That is definitely a part of the world I know nothing about, but boy has it been a topic of conversation since the bombings. My BFF’s husband is FBI and has been chasing down a few evil-doers down here in Florida from this area too. It sounds compelling, I just have to figure out where I can squeeze it in.

    1. I purposely did not mention the bombings as I tried really hard to read it without any preconceived notions. I know you like to listen on audio when you can. I have no idea how this wold play out on audio. The reading pace was slow. Maybe it would be better to listen to.

  3. This book does sound crazy compelling, and like something that would stick in my gut, what with all the visceral enhancements that the story has. I am going to have to look into this one!

  4. “This is one of those books that seeps into you slowly but it’s a story that you will never forget.”
    Oh yes, most definitely…I’m still thinking about it.
    Enjoyed your review!

    1. The timeline of events blew my mind. I had no idea what those people went through or for how many years they had to deal with such violence.

  5. This book sounds great! I actually started to read it awhile ago on my kindle, but for some reason I just couldn’t get into it so I put it down. I’m thinking I need to pick it up again and soon 🙂

    1. It WAS hard to get into but I kept reading because the writing was really good and I just had a feeling that it would pay off and it did.

  6. This is not the type of story I’d usually read, but it sounds interesting and informative, particularly when one considers the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing. The book couldn’t be more timely!

  7. “The amputation of a limb, a young girl’s collection of items left behind by refugees, feeding a band of loyal dogs.” This really gets me for some reason … I think it is the combination of the mundane and the life-changing …

    Thanks for being on the tour Ti. I’m featuring your review on TLC’s Facebook page today.

  8. I’m a little on the fence about this one but I think at the right time it will be definitely a good one to read. Nice job reviewing

    1. You’ll still be on the fence after reading it. It’s a hard book to love because of the subject matter, but it’s well done. War (of any kind) is not a fave subject with me but the author chose to tell the story with these subtle and sometimes not so subtle reminders. Not the in-your-face violence you expect to read about.

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